Microsoft published the first Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) in 1990 for Windows 3.0. As the article states, the listed model of computers are certified to run Windows. The machine as a whole must be certified, without non-standard modifications.
Fast forward to today and there is a Hardware Compatibility List for every Microsoft product, along with a corresponding supported product lifecycle. Starting with Windows 10, you can even search for an existing driver or device in the Windows Compatibility Center to verify it will work.
The technology industry grew out of hobbyist and do-it-yourself types with lots of smarts, but generally limited budget. The problem was individual hardware components like a video card may not work well with a particular motherboard or processor. To maintain quality for customers, Microsoft created the HCL so manufactures could prove their product ran well and customers could enjoy choice of the best product for whatever business application or problem they wanted to solve.
By the mid to late 90’s most “clone” manufacturers of branded models of computers went out of business. Low margins and the inability to compete with large automated manufacturers we some of the biggest causes. However, the ultimate cause was the fact of poor satisfaction and quality with customers. Clone manufacturers couldn’t keep up with fast changing improvements in technology and if a customer had any problems, there was no availability for support from Microsoft for the vendor or the customer.
If your hardware is not on the Microsoft Hardware Compatibility List, you have no support with Microsoft and you are responsible for diagnosing and fixing any problems.
That’s why it is both alarming and fascinating that 25 years later some service providers are beginning to put together their own clone computers. These same service providers claim that they are able to make better margins than reselling branded computers like Dell. Others say the pre-loaded software from major manufacturers causes too many support issues. While both of these arguments have some limited merit, the fact still remains that customers have no support through Microsoft using any clone hardware.
Margins are so low that even IBM stopped making PCs and sold the division to the Chinese that now make Lenovo. It’s highly unlikely that any service provider could sustain enough profit to build their own machines over the long run. Fortunately, public pressure has forced players like Lenovo to back off on crapware.
Following the Microsoft Hardware Compatibility List for hardware purchases is like having insurance. You may work for some period with no worries, but when something unexpected happens you want to be able to call for support.